What Is Kaatsu Training?

A revolutionary training method from Japan produces impressive results. But can you handle Kaatsu? Get-Fit Guy explains.

Ben Greenfield
2-minute read

A recent article in the Military Times reported that Kaatsu, "a revolutionary new training system" from Japan, is blowing fitness researchers' minds.

So what is this Kaatsu training?

With a name derived from the combination of the Japanese words for "additional" (ka) and "pressure"(atsu), the Kaatsu system is comprised of thin, computer-controlled, pressurized bands around your arms and legs to reduce the amount of blood flowing back from the muscles in your extremities.

This workout version of a tourniquet acts to slow down the blood flow back to your heart while allowing your working limbs to become engorged with blood. This fills more capillaries, and significantly increases the concentration of lactic acid in the blood, and does so at relatively lower workout intensities and weights while simulating hard and prolonged exercise. This simulation of hard exercise also tricks the brain into thinking the body is undergoing a very difficult workout and this causes your pituitary gland to release more growth hormones.

While Kaatsu training and Kaatsu equipment will set you back several hundred, or even several thousand dollars, I have a quick tip for you if you want to try this for yourself. This is the same style of exercise I used back when I was a bodybuilder, except back then we called it “occlusion” training.

For example, prior to a set of dumbbell curls, you can simply tie elastic bands or tubing or even an old bicycle tire to your upper arms. Prior to a set of squats or leg extensions, you can do the same thing to your upper legs.

And if you’re iffy about tying tourniquets around your limbs, you can also simply include “pulsing” type movements in your exercise sets, which simulates the Kaatsu-style occlusion training. To do this, simply choose 2 exercises for the 3 big muscle groups (e.g. squats and leg curls for your legs, chest presses and push-ups for your chest, pull-downs and rows for your back). Then proceed as follows:

  1. Do 3 sets of 10 for each exercise.

  2. At the end of each set do a 10-second hold in the most difficult part of the movement (e.g. the bottom of a squat) followed by a 10-second pulse in which you slightly bounce up and down through a very small range of motion. Prepare for a burn!

  3. Rest 1 - 2 minutes, then go to the next exercise for the same body part. Repeat until you finish off one body part, then move to the next.

Do you have more questions about Kaatsu training or occlusion training? Head over to Facebook.com/GetFitGuy and ask your questions or join the conversation there!

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.